Perspective18 Years After 9/11, Why Is Guantánamo Still Open?

Published 9 October 2019

If he wants to upstage his predecessor, Donald Trump should take the necessary steps to close down the detention facility at Guantanamo. In the meantime, as long as the proceedings in the 9/11 case continue under [the newly appointed judge in the case, Air Force Col. Shane] Cohen, it’s clear he takes his responsibilities seriously. He opened the September 11 hearing by stating: “In this particular case, not only have I been asked to [ensure] a fair trial, but to sit in judgment in many instances of my own country and its actions. I get the weight of that decision. I get the weight of the impact of the decision that I’m making. Never underestimate the weight that I feel each and every day with the decisions that I make that impact the lives of people all over the world.”

Andrew Boyle writes in Just Security that on the 18th anniversary of 9/11, he was sitting in Guantánamo Bay observing pre-trial hearings in the case against some of those alleged to have conspired in carrying out the devastating attacks. Sitting with him were other observers representing various organizations, a handful of journalists, and a group of victims’ family members, some wearing pins showing their deceased loved ones. “We had all arrived a few days before on a charter flight from Andrews Air Force Base,” he writes. “The day after we landed, the world learned that President Donald Trump had canceled a planned meeting with the Taliban at Camp David that would have coincided with the anniversary of the attacks, a jarring juxtaposition.”

Boyle adds:

That a child born on that day the planes hit would by now have gained the right to vote, but there has yet to be a trial of the alleged attackers, serves to highlight how painfully slow the process at Guantánamo is proceeding. It also serves as a reminder that the U.S. has yet to solve the problem that is Guantánamo. Trump, on the campaign trail, vowed to keep the Guantánamo Bay detention facility open and to “load it up with some bad dudes.” Instead, it remains in his—and the nation’s—interest to close it.

In the courtroom on September 11th, on the other side of the sound-proof glass from where I sat, were two of the five defendants in the case: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged planner of the attacks, and his nephew, Ammar al-Baluchi. The other three defendants in the case—Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi—had appeared in court earlier that week but chose not to that day. Providing adequate medical care for these and other detainees as the years drag on with no release or transfer in sight has required the government to contemplate significant new and costly investments in the Guantánamo detention facilities for an aging inmate population.

….

If he wants to upstage his predecessor, Trump should take the necessary steps to close down the detention facility there. In the meantime, as long as the proceedings in the 9/11 case continue under [the newly appointed judge in the case, Air Force Col. Shane] Cohen, it’s clear he takes his responsibilities seriously. He opened the September 11 hearing by stating:

In this particular case, not only have I been asked to [ensure] a fair trial, but to sit in judgment in many instances of my own country and its actions. I get the weight of that decision. I get the weight of the impact of the decision that I’m making. Never underestimate the weight that I feel each and every day with the decisions that I make that impact the lives of people all over the world.

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